This Just In...News
From The Agony Column
06-06-08: Richard Liebmann-Smith Rides With 'The James Boys' ; Agony
Column Podcast News Report :
Wild West Versus
got a bike, you can ride it if you like.
Over on the Loren
Coleman's highly recommended Fortean website Cryptomundo,
you'll occasionally find him talking about "The Name Game."
That's his description for that whole farrago of coincidences where a
single name will pop up again and again. Coleman really has taken this
down to a science, in the manner of the best scientists. He accumulates
data and presents it in a straightforward manner. These "name game"
coincidences may not suggest much beyond our ability to perceive the same
pattern again and again. As Cory Doctorow said in our interview, once
you read 'The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy,' the chances are that
youre going to start seeing the number 42 crop up everywhere. "Name
games" tell us a lot more about our selves than they do about the
world around us.
Just the same, name games are hard to ignore. And in his introduction
to 'The James Boys' (Random House ; June 17, 2008 ; $25), Richard
Liebmann-Smith admits that he's not the first to play the name
game with the two sets of James brothers. "As Stanford historian
Otis Pease once remarked, virtually the entire story of nineteenth-century
America is encompassed in the saga of the James Brothers – William
and Henry in the East, Frank and Jesse in the West." But Leibmann-Smith,
co-creator The Tick animated television series is the first writer to
imagine that all four were indeed related – a single group of four
James Boys – and then to write a novel that twists history and the
reader's mind enough to wrap both around that vision of America. The result
is a fascinating and compelling revision of history. Liebmann-Smith effortlessly
pulls the threads of story out of the whole cloth of history.
The touchstone year is 1876. In the reality we're supposedly familiar
with, that's the year that Frank and Jesse tried to pull off the First
National Bank job in Northfield, Minnesota, and the year that Henry and
William came into the orbit of one Elena Hite, who is likely the role
model for Daisy Miller. 'The James Boys' imagines that Henry James is
aboard the Missouri Pacific Express when it is stopped and robbed. To
his horror, he realizes that the robbers, Frank and Jesse, are two long
lost brothers who had disappeared during the Civil War and were presumed
dead. With that presumption proved untrue, Henry and William find themselves
drawn into a world they'd tried hard to avoid.
Lienmann-Smith writes it all so seamlessly readers might be tempted to
look up the real history to see just where he's made his changes –
but the story he tells grasps a larger truth with such surety that it
doesn't really matter. Of course he brings in everyone's favorite historical
character of the era, William Pinkerton, in this novel hotly pursuing
not just two but all four James brothers. That's not all that surprising;
we distrust intellectuals and creative types almost more than bank robbers.
With the latter, we clearly understand their goals, which are to take
advantage of, not undermine society. Intellectuals, on the other hand,
are neither trustworthy nor easily understood. And by virtue of their
occupation, they can't help but to undermine society. Jesse or Frank might
shoot you. But William or Henry might help you understand yourself, and
that's a much more terrifying prospect.
Agony Column Podcast
News Report : Betsy Burton of King's English : Local Area Networking
years in the making.
I've been amazingly
fortunate in my bookseller interviews; by pure chance and the kindness
of my interviewees, I've managed to stumble across a number of fascinating
guests with great stories about bookselling. To tell the truth, I never
expected this to work out so well.
After all, how would I ever have come across Betsy Burton,
English Books in Salt Lake City, Utah? I've never been to Utah, and
have no driving urge to go there; well, other than visiting this historic
bookstore. King's English has been in business for over thirty years,
and, as Betsy Burton explains, it's because of some very smart local area
networking, so to speak. Hear
her story here and get an idea of why these independent booksellers are
so much on the cutting edge of preserving our freedom to read what we
06-05-08: The Franchise That Time Never Forgot ; Agony Column Podcast
News Report : Lou Anders on SF Video
skull with snake-tongue!
In the future, someone
can invent a drinking game whereby you pull down a brew every time you
come across a mention of Brian Lumley's 'Necroscope'
on this website. Dont drink and drive, dont drink and drive
– how are you going to get anywhere? Stay home and read a book instead.
I've said it before and some enterprising soul will surely publish yet
another version so that I may say it again, that having played the game
and having firmly decided to stay at home, you could have a hell of a
good time reading the latest handsome trade paperback version of 'Necroscope'
(Tom Doherty Associates ; June 10, 2008 ; $14.95) by Brian Lumley. I'll
never forget finding the very first American edition, a mass-market paperback,
in the racks at a drug store in Marina Del Rey, just up the street from
a smorgasbord I loved to have lunch at during the 1980's. Those were the
days, as we like to say, when you could still find a good rack of titles
in certain drug stores. There was a drug store in Monterey Park that had
the UK versions of all of Robert R. McCammon's titles, as well as the
original UK mass-market paperbacks of Clive Barker's 'Books of Blood'.
The UK McCammon paperbacks in particular just disturbed and scared me.
There was something seedy about them, a touch of the forbidden. And the
same was true of the Lumley's 'Necroscope'.
Even then, I wasn't a fan of vampire fiction, but I could tell by the
screaming skull on the original 'Necroscope' that there was something
different. This time around, Tor's putting a blurb from H. R. Giger on
the cover, and I have to say, that's pretty appropriate. Lumley's novel
isn't your usual vampire fare, but rather a monsterific spy novel with
plenty of intrigue, critters and over-the-top horror. The basic deal is
that due to a maguffin, Harry Keogh can talk to the dead; ie, he is a
"necroscope" (TM). This makes him useful to Britain's E-Branch,
the super secret spy agency that keeps an eye out for monsters and the
like. Turns out that the dead are all up in arms about the vampires, which
are not your usual bloodsucking fashion plates, but leech-like blood-thirsty
monster-symbiotes. I always saw many of the scenes in the novel as created
by Giger in the movie screen of my mind; Lumley and Giger share a bio-morphic
approach to crafting the surreal. Of course, Lumley has his own "evil
uncle" style of storytelling, in that his prose voice is always apparent
and appalling. You can tell the writer is having one hell of a time with
this novel and as a reader it's hard not to go with the flow of blood
and other viscous fluids.
Lumley had so much fun that the series has lasted for a number of years,
gone on through many printings and has even made the journey from the
big press to the small press, where Subterranean crafted some gorgeous
illustrated versions (and I believe that there are more to come). Lumley
even managed to trademark the title, the better, one would presume, to
keep video game developers from totally ripping off his idea and his title.
Sure, they might steal the ideas, but at least the title and the series
are covered, and I think that's not a bad thing. 'Necroscope' is a great
example of the rare Fictional Franchise, and time does not forget these.
It brings them back to life, just like the vampires within. From the get-go,
I thought that these would make great movies. In fact, in my original
review, (have I written about this before?), I said they'd make awesome,
big-budget B-movies, a review snip which caused Lumley to write me, wondering
why I didn't think they'd make good A-movies. Of course, I'd prefer B-movies,
I mean what would you rather watch, Alien or Amistad? I know where my
rot within ...
This time around, Tor is issuing it as a nicely-priced trade paperback
with the original cover art by Bob Eggleton – who doesn't love a
screaming skull? – and new interior illustrations and decoration
as well, also by Eggleton. I suspect that some of these were originally
used in the to-die-for Subterranean Press editions that came out a couple
of years ago. Illo-loving book fiends should have opted for those, but
if you missed them, here's a way to get some of the mojo at a very cheap
price. And even if you did get them, this version would make a fine reading
copy. Look, it's 'Necroscope'!!!!! OK, down the hatch, sip, guzzle, name
your poison and drink hearty me hearties. Lumley awaits!
Agony Column Podcast
News Report : Lou Anders on SF Video : Battle Beyond the Stardust
Today's Agony Column
Podcast News Report gets in touch with Lou Anders, editor
of the incredible Prometheus Books imprint, Pyr.
I've been wanting to get back to Lou and talk to him about SF on video
and the upcoming Hugo Awards. You know, for all that I loved, and I mean
LOVED Neil Gaiman's perfect prose construction 'Stardust', the trailers
for the movie left me a little leery, and I never got round to even seeing
it. I know, what's the matter with me? I run out to see Neil Marshall's
Doomsday (which I really enjoyed), but not Stardust.
Well, we sort
it all out in this MP3 download; this is your chance to hear one of
the great editors of the 21st century. Forward – Fast Forward!
06-04-08: Salman Rushdie Explores with 'Haroun and the Sea of Stories'
; Agony Column Podcast News Report : NPR Story on Neuroscientists Sandra
Aamodt and Sam Wang
It's always fun, if
slightly embarrassing to find great literature served up right in front
of your face. Of course, examples of litrachur are a dime a dozen; but
great fantasy dressed up as literature is a rare beast indeed. Imagine
my chagrin at coming so lately to the work of Salman Rushdie.
With the foofaraw attendant to the release of 'The Satanic Verses' so
long ago, I figured he was in the category of "read by so many people
I dont need to read him," but let me be the first to say that
I was so wrong. Rushdie proves to be one of the premiere fantasists of
the 21st century, a writer of remarkable talents and a vision pretty clearly
focused on the fantastic and the surreal. If youre looking for
a place to start, you might try what Janet Leimeister at Captiola
Book Café suggested for me to read, 'Haroun and the Sea of
Stories' (Penguin Books ; 1990 ; $14). This is a fantasy about the power
of literature and importance of storytelling, gorgeously written, fast-paced
and entertainingly imagined.
Haroun has a couple more problems than the average teenager in the city
of Alifbay. Haroun's father Rashid, the great storyteller, has run dry
after his wife took off with an oh-so-serious neighbor. Haroun wakes up
one morning soon after to find a genie cutting off Rashid's tap into the
Sea of Stories. Snippety-snap, he's off on one quest that leads to another
in a reality where works of literature have a life of their own. Rushie's
language is always engaging and funny, and the plot moves along at a whirlwind
pace. This is a very easy-to-read book with loads of fascinating subtext
not far beneath the surface of Rushie's Sea of Stories. Rip-roaring adventure
is wrought out of literary metaphors brought to life with the sure hand
of a fantasist who knows what he's doing. It's really quite reminiscent
of the work of Jasper Fforde; lover's of Thursday Next's adventures will
feel totally at home in the sea of stories.
As a fantasy, 'Haroun and the Sea of Stories' is admirably terse and self-contained.
Rushdie could be writing for children, but to my mind this is a book for
adults of all ages, not children. The story is zippy but the underpinnings
– which lie just below a transparent sea of lovely language –
are as powerfully entertaining as the silly goings-on above. You start
this book, you'll whip through it a trice, then go back to your 'Wizard
of Oz', 'Alice in Wonderland' and 'Arabian Nights' with a new eye. That's
the real treat of this book; read it and with only language, Rushdie will
invent the world anew for you.
Agony Column Podcast
News Report : NPR Story on Neuroscientists Sandra Aamodt and Sam Wang
: Welcome to Your Brain
Today's Agony Column
Podcast News Report is a
high-quality MP3 of last week's NPR report on neuroscientists Sandra
Aamodt and Sam Wang and their book 'Welcome to Your Brain'.
Thanks to the readers who made this a popular story on NPR. The column
lives to see another week, and we have lots more fun down the road. You
can find the link to the MP3 here, the
link to the NPR website version here. And allow me to once again pitch
Books For Summer list on NPR's website. Take a look at this list,
which brings up titles I've not got round to here (yet) and might hold
glimpses of future NPR reports. And then Email that story! Shameless self-promotion
is alas, some kind of rite of passage here on the Web-o-Net. One just
hopes to get the word out, and let you the readers make the decisions
and enjoy the reading.
06-03-08: Terry D'Auray Greets 'The Dawn Patrol' ; Agony Column Podcast
News Report : Lyn Roberts of Square Books
Surf Noir Rides
Today, we're featuring
Terry D'Auray's peerless
review of 'The Dawn Patrol' by Don Winslow. Winslow's
an acclaimed writer and certainly one to watch. Terry took a look at his
earlier novel, 'The
Power of the Dog', which would explain why she was so happy to get
'The Dawn Patrol'. She's not the only one who's impressed with Winslow.
Terry tells me that Robert DeNiro and Michael Mann are teaming up to turn
Winslow's previous book, 'The Winter of Frankie Machine' into a feature
film. But for all the entertainment promised by such a venture, it simply
can't match the reading experience. Great mystery and noir fiction is
all about language, about the fiction web a writer can weave. And it starts
with Terry's outstandingly well-written, spoiler-free review. Catch this
wave and see if you want to ride out the whole set. If you're looking
for a perfect summer hardcover mystery, your ride has arrived.
Agony Column Podcast
News Report : Lyn Roberts of Square Books : Three Stores Are Better
Today's Agony Column
Podcast is a conversation with bookseller Lyn Roberts of Square
Books, in Oxford Mississippi.
She has a fascinatingly different perspective, in fact a dual perspective,
because Square Books has three stores on one small square in this southern
university town. You
can hear our conversation via this MP3 link, and find out what goes
where and why. As ever, if youre interested in reading you have
to be interested in the state of independent bookselling. Lyn's voice
is a great addition to the bookseller interviews, and a wonderful turn
in this journey across the US and eventually (phone costs permitting)
around the world. You wont be able to read unless you can buy books,
and you wont be able to buy books without the work of booksellers
like Lyn Roberts. Listen and enjoy! Moreover, if readers would like to
nominate their local bookstore for an interview, just email me the details;
I'll call 'em up and talk to them and find out why they're selling you
06-02-08: A 2008 Interview With Cory Doctorow
Big Changes and
out the steampunk watch.
just keeps getting better. His newest novel, 'Little Brother', is to my
mind easily his best. It's smart and entertaining on two usually mutually
exclusive levels. As a ripping yarn, a tale of exciting adventure, Cory
keeps the plot popping and the action moving, but manages to do so while
having all the characters make what they at first think, at least, are
smart decisions. The plot is full of truth and consequences for all involved.
But this is science
fiction, albeit present-focused science fiction, without really any speculation
concerning technological development. And as a science fiction writer,
Cory embarks on a number of discursive, polemic info-dumps that are every
bit as entertaining as they are smart. You'll really look forward to those
moments when Marcus goes off on a rant about l'esprit d'escalier or
the paradox of the first positive. What all this adds up is that 'Little
Brother' is a book of all good parts. You turn that page, youre
going to have a good time.
Who's watching you?
The same is true of any conversation with Doctorow. I talked to him at
KQED about 'Little Brother', The War on Terror, his writing techniques
and much more. You
can hear that conversation here. I've bookended the interview with
readings from 'Little Brother', so hang around after the interview ends
to head Doctorow read again. You can also look over at the Audio
Index and find quite a few other conversations with Doctorow through
the years. Interestingly enough, this was our first visit to a full-blown,
sit-down studio, KQED in an interview
engineered by KQED's Howard Gelman. That means pristine audio, and everyone
totally at ease, and free to speak; for the moment. That freedom of speech
is precious, and requires vigilance.